Tips for Safe Screwing
I once had my glasses repaired with new nose-pads. A couple weeks later, one nose-pad’s screw fell out. I went back to the shop and insisted they repair it for free.
The optometrist said, “But that’s the nature of a screw. They fall out.”
“I’m glad you’re not an engineer,” I quipped, stating that it’d be a pretty dysfunctional world if that indeed were true. No, a screw’s nature is to stay in, if you’re doing it right.
Yesterday, I finished the last installation project in my new apartment. Today, I’m sporting blisters on my right hand from all the screwing that was required. I had such a difficult time because of the wood, and because screws kept threatening to strip, that I thought it was maybe time to do a Basics of Screws 101 post.
You’d think the act of using a screwdriver and a screw weren’t too challenging, but if even a university-educated optometrist can’t figure out how to get a screw in, well, maybe the masses have a thing or two to learn.
Get the good stuff
The most important thing to learn, and learn early, is that with tools quality counts. The metal used, the construction, it matters. Tools get put through their paces every time we pull them out, and not all jobs are equal. Don’t waste your money. Get the good stuff, especially if you’re talking screwdrivers.
Yesterday’s job, for instance, was the hardest screwing I’d ever done, even with pre-drilled holes. You’d think 80-year-old wood wouldn’t put up such a fight, but I’m hurting today, with blisters and a sore shoulder.
So let’s start with pre-drilling.
Pre-drilling is your friend
Some products can splinter or crack if you start screwing without pre-drilling, particleboard and such are good examples.
A quick and easy way to do accomplishing the same goal with wood and tougher products is by using an awl. My screwdriver set came with a heavy-duty awl that made life easy when I’d lost my drill key after my move. Whacking the awl into my wood wall with a hammer a few times allowed me to mimic 1” holes for “pre-drilling.” If you fear splintering or cracking, stick to a proper drill and, if you really have to, start pre-drilling small, and then use a larger bit to get a proper-sized hole.
Screws are naughty, they like to strip
Even good-quality screws can and will strip. What’s that mean? The nice, snug fit between your screwdriver and the screw is in jeopardy as metal twists and shaves. Installing screws can take an awful lot of torquing and pressure. If your screw or drill starts slipping out of the groove, get serious fast, because it’s a fast decline from a healthy to a stripped screw. Once it’s stripped, well, you’re kinda screwed. You’ll need special tools and patience to get it out.
To prevent this, stick to manual screwing for iffy installs, like mine yesterday. When your screwdriver starts slipping out, it’s time to take a hammer to the screwdriver and whack it gently into place. It’s important your angle of hammer-to-driver-to-screw is straight on. A few whacks and you’ll get a firm grip with the screwdriver in the head, but also prolong the screw-head’s life and allow you to get the job done. This also works for removing screws, especially ones that might’ve begun stripping when you installed them.
A one-time thing
Never give a screw a second life. I’ve already written of how vulnerable screws can be to stripping and damage. I advocate reuse and recycling in all ways in life, but never when it comes to screws. Reusing them dramatically increases odds that you’ll strip that sucker. Don’t go there. Splurge two cents and use a fresh screw every time.
The right product for the right job
There are all kinds of screws/drivers out there for all kinds of jobs. Short drywall screws, long wood screws, concrete screws. They’re all made with different materials, different threading, different heads, different widths and lengths. Wood screws go into wood better than others. Drywall screws will snap if used in the wrong installation. Don’t screw around, use the right screw.
“Close” isn’t close enough when mating your screwdriver to the screw. It needs to be a snug, tight fit, or you run the risk of stripping and maiming the screw head, or worse, your screwdriver.
Proper screw packages come with a number and a measurement. A well-designed screwdriver set will have the head number and measurement on the handle, reducing your guessing time. The are lots of different kinds of specialty screws, and as infuriating as it might seem, the newer, odder heads actually reduce the chance of stripped screws or the screws coming undone. Instead of griping about varying screwdrivers being required, get a better driver set.
Finally, a couple basic rules to remember
“Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” is the mantra for valves, screws, and everything else. Need to turn the propane tank off? Turn it to the right. Open a valve? Turn to the left. Need to install your screw? Turn it to the right. Remove it? Turn left. Know this, and never forget it.
Another helpful thing to remember I’ve never heard anywhere else is what my closest friend was taught in high-school shop — the “Teddy Bear Rule.” It’s about how tight to screw anything in, ever. “Snuggle it close enough so it’s getting love, but don’t squeeze it so hard it crushes the stuffing out of it.”
This is to say, don’t overtighten your screws, or else you’ll understand where the saying “I got screwed” originates.
A screwdriver set – first place to start
From basic jobs to big, heavy installations, screwing things in really comes down to making sure you have a good connection between the pieces, you’re attentive to getting the right angle for the installation, applying the right torgue and not rushing, and using the right tools for the job.
A screwdriver set is really the first place to start with a home toolkit. With the right know-how and a good set, there’s a world of handy jobs you can complete around the home.